Royce Morse: Welcome to "Meet the Experts, and IOFM podcast series designed to introduce you to many of the more thane 200 panelists that answer your "Ask the Expert" questions. "Ask the Expert" is a popular feature allowing our members to ask fellow AP and AR practitioners any work-related questions and get answers back within five business days. I'm Royce Morse, Institute of Finance and Management's Managing Editor.
Today we're talking with Doreen Smuda, APM, who has more than 40 years of experience in finance and accounting. She's led Cameco Corporation's Accounts Payable team since 2004, and is manager of accounts payable and accounts receivable. Doreen's also an active member of IOFM and is a long-time member of the IOFM Advisory Panel. Under her guidance, her entire team achieved IOFM's accredited payables department certification in 2017, and in that same year, IOFM recognized the Cameco AP team with the IOFM Department of the Year Award.
As the first member of the IOFM Advisory Panel from Canada, Doreen has worked consciously to provide Canada a greater presence among the IOFM membership. In 2019, under her leadership, the IOFM Canadian Chapter was established. It's IOFM's only nationwide virtual chapter, covering all the provinces in Canada. Hi, Doreen. Thanks for joining us today.
Doreen Smuda: Hi, Royce. It's my pleasure to be here and thanks for this opportunity.
Royce Morse: Great. I'm looking forward to our conversation. So what we want to talk about today is continuing learning. We go to school and then a lot of people stop that learning process, except the skills that they need to just get their job done.
But I know that you're a big advocate of learning beyond that and taking it kind of to the next level in your career. So tell me a little bit about how you got to that place, and what motivates you?
Doreen Smuda: Sure. Well, the only constant is change. And in order to keep up with change, you have to continually learn along the way. For me, that just means keeping in touch with what's going on around you, looking at your processes in accounts payable, in particular, is my focus. What's up and coming? Everything is evolving almost daily, it seems, and there's always just a little bit different way to do things.
I like to look at the different processes we're doing and watch for the opportunity to eliminate touch and waste and what kinds of tools are out there to help do that.
Royce Morse: That's great. I think that you're onto something. Tell me a little bit about how that's taken shape for you during this pandemic.
Doreen Smuda: Before the pandemic ever was known that it was coming, we were a paper-based department. In 2016, I said, "Starting January 2017, we're going to be paperless," which was kind of a shock for some of my team members, to think we were going to go to that big of a change. But we did and we got there.
And then, in 2019, I gave them back something. We talk about work/life balance, and what I did was I said, "You can work from home once a week." It was just kind of like shock and awe, like, "Is that for real?" It was for real, and both of those changes were really foundational as we left the office on March 13, 2020, when the pandemic was announced and our company said, "Go home." We were already established with home offices. We packed up and left and we are still working virtually, and longer-term it'll be hybrid.
Royce Morse: That was an incredible act of foresight. People were ready. They had the resources to work from home. They were doing it already. It worked out really to your advantage, because a lot of companies got caught short and had a scramble and tried to figure out how to get people online and how to do that work electronically, rather than handling paper invoices, paper checks, and that kind of thing. That was an incredible stroke of luck, perhaps, or foresight.
Doreen Smuda: Yes, I think it was something that was needed but wasn't really designed with a pandemic in mind, for sure. But we couldn't have done it without great infrastructure in our company, either, because they had already enabled a lot of things to allow us to work remotely, for sure.
Royce Morse: So let's go back to the learning process. On your team, what do you do to kind of promote that and encourage people to keep learning?
Doreen Smuda: Well, I think we can't ever not try to learn because of the constant change. Individuals should just take advantage of everything in front of them. If there's something more you'd like to know about, make sure you ask, because maybe it is available or maybe it can be made available. Perhaps there's in-house training, networking with others (whether it's in your internal procure-to-pay process or individuals that you get to know along the way that are external to your organization). There are lots of good webinars and whitepapers on different things, like automation. Fraud is huge, and you need to be aware of how that might it into AP and catch people off-guard trying to do their regular work—get caught by a very sly fraudster—and that's a really unfortunate circumstance when that happens.
And regulatory compliance and reporting—all of those things are day to day, and so they all seem to evolve and you have to keep current with it. For our organization, we rely a lot on resources through the IOFM, including the certification programs, conferences I've been fortunate to go to and meet up with some folks. That networking piece is so great. And then there's chapter organizations as well.
Royce Morse: Yeah, for sure. I'm assuming that you encourage folks to learn on an ongoing basis, but do you ever find people are resistant to that?
Doreen Smuda: Yes, for sure. So change isn't always welcomed by everyone, and certainly change for the sake of change is not a good thing. There needs to be a good reason for change, so we always look to encourage people to be included in the change process, to understand why there is change happening. When we went paperless leading up to 2017, it was a bit of a struggle. People were struggling with letting go of paper: How would I do this? What would it look like? And how would things unfold?
But once we got going with it and kinda said, "Well, this is happening," people started focusing on, "Okay, how can we make the things that we think are going to be cumbersome a little bit easier?" Soon they got onboard. Some of the team members, they'll be leaders of change—they'll be looking for those change opportunities—and others will be somewhat followers. They'll grab onto the change once it's brought in to implement. But those that are high resistors to change, they can't last long if the process is implemented and expected. It's either going to be a barrier for themselves or cause some obstacles for the department outcome.
Royce Morse: I'm guessing that most people that are resistant to change do it because they're afraid of it rather than they just are lazy or don't want to do anything differently.
Doreen Smuda: Absolutely. The fear of the unknown. A lot of times, when you're bringing in automation, there's a fear of like, "What's going to happen to me if we're going to automate all of these different things? What's that going to mean for me and my role in the organization?" But what it [unveils] is the opportunity to do higher-value work and to contribute in a different way. So it really helps engagement and people development.
Royce Morse: Yeah, that's one of the things that we really promote at IOFM is that automation doesn't mean you're going to go in and lay off everybody; it means that you get to use those brains to do tasks that machinery and automation don't do very well. Automation can handle routine invoice processing, but the stuff that requires thinking and interpersonal interaction—with vendors, for example—that can't be done by automation.
Perhaps framing it as "this is a benefit to you because you get to do more interesting things afterward" is the way to go. But it's true. I think that you run into situations where people just simply don't want to change. They have to make a decision, and it can be a hard one.
Doreen Smuda: Yeah. Fortunately, I have not run into that situation. I think everybody's been an adopter, some right off the get-go and some maybe once there's some proven track record, if you will. But I don't think that those that are challenging the process or the ideas should not be heard, because they may have some really great insights that haven't been thought of yet, and things to mitigate an obstacle further along in the process. So everybody should be able to share their voice during the change.
Royce Morse: Yeah, that's a really good point, I think. Because, there, the people in the trenches as it were, when they're doing the daily work, they may see a potential problem that wouldn't be obvious to somebody that doesn't do the hands-on stuff. They're the ones that can best identify those potential pitfalls and prevent them from becoming a bigger problem down the road.
Doreen Smuda: Absolutely. One of my favorite sayings is I know enough just to be dangerous, because it is my team that knows it inside and out and can advise on: Will that actually work? Or maybe it's a good starter but they've got some better advice along the way.
Royce Morse: What kinds of extended learning does your team do? Within your company, is there like a formal program to do that? Is it more or less kind of as they have time and the inclination? How does that work for you?
Doreen Smuda: Well, we do have in-house training at Cameco where (pre-pandemic) they offered a program called Lean Sensei training, so it was really interesting—sort of the Toyota model—and lots of learning [five why]—question, question, question—doing value-stream mapping of process end-to-end, bringing in key stakeholders from other groups into the process so that you really have that end-to-end look and ideally have someone that might be less familiar with the process coming in to help with those five why questions.
We are going to see, "Oh, there is a glaring opportunity there, but we've been doing it this way for so long we can't see it." So that's been really healthy for us to move things along and create many KiZANs to get rid of touches and just streamline our process.
The other thing that we've really promoted in accounts payable is the IOFM certification programs that are out there. In 2016, I had a number of people in my team decide that they were going to take certification.
When they completed that certification journey, it was a game-changer. People had been doing AP for a very long time or maybe some of them not as long as others. You've learned on the go. You're really doing a great job, but the certification program is validating. It validates, "Oh, I do know what I know." It also brings in some of the new thinking automation. We weren't automated at the time. So it brought in some of those ideas about automation and what kinds of things can be done, and how segregation of duty is important, why it is.
People just started reading out of the same chapter in the same book kind of thing. Once we started making changes and talking about change, it was really energizing. Then we were recognized by the IOFM for having 80% of our team certified, so we're now considered an accredited payables department, which is pretty cool. And so we continue to encourage those joining our team to participate in the certification program so that we keep that bench strength.
Royce Morse: That's wonderful to hear. I think one of the things that we try to emphasize in the IOFM certifications is you know how to do your job, but if you've worked maybe only in one or two places, everybody kind of does things a little bit differently. There are best practices that should be aware of, which you may or may not be using in your current role. So, if you are using them, fantastic. But if you're not, you should be acquainted with them so that you can start thinking about how to employ those best practices in your own organization, because not everybody does everything the same way, and there are opportunities always to do things better, as long as you know what people have tried and discovered to be better.
Doreen Smuda: Exactly. It's great to see people with your team for long periods of time—many years. But even for myself, if you're in one position for a long time, if you don't reach out and try and keep fresh with what's going on around you, you're going to be kind of stuck. So engaging in the certification programs and keeping up your certification through continual learning, through webinars and whitepapers and other kinds of training, then you are going to keep not only yourself fresh, but those around you, and for your company outcome, strengthen them.
Royce Morse: Yeah, absolutely. So, tell me, do you have any stories or examples of how continuing the learning process within your organization has benefitted the organization as a whole, or has been recognized by executives or people in other departments?
Doreen Smuda: My leadership team has been very supportive of our AP initiative to do certification and maintain that certification, certainly, and making sure that we're keeping current with not just our own team but with like procurement, treasury, making sure that we're collaborating effectively to make sure that whatever we're doing in our group is also aligning well with the other teams. It's a domino effect. We all need each other to get the strongest outcome for the company, for sure.
Royce Morse: Hopefully, other departments may see what you're doing and be likewise motivated to expand their own knowledge of their own areas—kind of lead by example.
Doreen Smuda: Yeah. Networking, whether it's internally or externally, I find so great. Don't reinvent the wheel: steal shamelessly [laughter] and use those things to your advantage. Working closely with the IOFM and being part of the "Ask the Expert" Advisory Panel has been really valuable for me and I think for a lot of my Canadian peers because it allowed me to work closely with the IOFM.
In 2019, we established a virtual IOFM chapter for Canada. We are coast to coast with the chapter. It's really been wonderful. Most of the chapters of the IOFM are located in the United States, and generally accounts payable is accounts payable no matter where you're located, but there's some different nuances for Canada versus the U.S., so it's great to have a group of networking peers that have similar interests, I guess, regarding taxes and other nuances.
Royce Morse: Yeah, that's true. And I think it's wonderful that you're engaged with people across the huge country that you live in, so spread out, and yet you're forming an interactive group of peers that can help each other through some of the questions. The "Ask the Expert" stuff, some of the questions we get are extremely obscure—arcane, if you will. They ask questions that are specific to their particular situation, and yet I'm guessing that, in a lot of cases, when you go to answer them, you're thinking, "Yeah, I had to deal with that myself a while ago." Or, even so, learning about the problems of other folks is kind of an eyeopener.
Doreen Smuda: It certainly is really helpful. It might be the question you hadn't thought of yet, too, and then it makes you want to explore more. Or once you start to see the responses coming in, you learn. You just start to understand. Yeah, some of the questions might seem pretty obscure, but if you're thinking the same question, you're pretty excited to be sitting there, waiting for the [fly-in], even if you weren't the one asking the question.
Royce Morse: Exactly. And some of the questions that we get are fascinating. I never would've thought of that, but, yeah, that could be a problem. It's just really fascinating to hear how other people approach solving these problems and how the panel kind of weighs in. Everybody's really candid. I really appreciate that.
The folks that do answer recount their personal experiences and say, "This is what I learned the hard way," and that way you don't have to go through that process and learn it the hard way, too.
Doreen Smuda: Yeah, I think that's a great question to always ask if you're asking a peer: "How did your automation project go? What did you do and how did it go?" One of the good questions to ask is: "If you were to do it again, what wouldn't you do?" I find that is a great question to ask because there's always something. Hindsight is 20/20. It's really good to keep that in your mind when you're working through something new: What if? And maybe ask your peers about what their experience was.
Royce Morse: Yeah, absolutely. I think the benefits of being in an organization like IOFM is you don't have to reinvent the wheel; other people have been there and done that and can tell you, from their experience, how do avoid not addressing an issue (or even making it worse) just because you're kind of working in the dark. That's another very interesting learning resource is the "Ask the Expert" stuff. Whether you're answering the questions, asking the questions or reading the questions online, that's another way that people can certainly share their knowledge and get better at what they do.
Doreen Smuda: Yes, for sure.
Royce Morse: What's your thought on webinars?
Doreen Smuda: Well, they are generally pretty good—like if it's a topic that is top-of-mind for you, then jumping in on a webinar is really good. I really appreciate the webinars that are process-focused, so they're talking about the process and typically there's a solution underpinning the webinar. Some providers are very good at explaining the process and the route to the solution, and those are really good and really start provoking new thinking as well.
Royce Morse: Yeah. There are so many resources. And as you've pointed out, some of them are more formal and some of them are kind of more off-the-cuff—the experiences you get dealing with your chapter or if you go to conferences, talking to people at conferences, whether they're virtual or in person; there are a lot of opportunities, yeah.
Doreen Smuda: The recent Winter Summit was excellent. It just was last week, I believe. That opportunity is so good because my entire team attended some portion of it. Conferences that are at a location, it's really hard to get many people—or even one person—to a conference at a particular location. But the virtual offerings are so good. They're interactive and it really stirs conversation.
Again, there was lots of conversation going on in our team throughout the week, as the days were going on, so great opportunities.
Royce Morse: That's wonderful. I'm really glad you enjoyed it and benefitted from it. We know that it's hard for some organizations to get people to a conference. Especially if you have a fairly small department, you can't send everybody because there won't be anybody left to do the work—plus travel and all that kind of stuff. I'm glad you enjoyed the virtual conference. I think we're hoping to do some more of those. Then everybody can kind of sit in on sessions as their schedule permits. And those things that are of particular interest to them, they can learn more about. That's another great learning resource to add to your portfolio.
Doreen Smuda: Yes, for sure.
Royce Morse: What final words do you have for people that are trying to figure out how to expand their own knowledge or get their teams up to speed on best practices?
Doreen Smuda: I think as you're leading a team, or if you're a member of a team, continual learning is just almost natural. It has to happen. How you make things available for your team, sharing it openly—what are some of the things that you might see as topics that are out there? Whether it's a webinar or a whitepaper or a network person that you've been able to connect with, you take that information and you share it with your team, coworkers, and help everybody understand what that new idea or better way is.
The outcomes of those opportunities will really bring strong value back to your team in the form of engagement, interaction, strong results, and just a very positive theme.
Royce Morse: Yeah, I think that's an important point that you make, that getting people engaged and learning more shows that you're invested in them. Whether or not the training costs anything, it's affirmation that they are valuable and you're happy to help them advance their knowledge and, accordingly, advance their careers. I think that's a great message to send and it's a wonderful byproduct of the learning experience in a professional environment.
Doreen Smuda: Absolutely.
Royce Morse: Well, thank you so much for your time. I have appreciated talking with you and enjoyed our conversation. I hope that folks can take away some pointers about how to improve the learning process in their own organizations and the benefits that it brings.
Doreen Smuda: Thanks, Royce, for this opportunity. I enjoyed our conversation.
Royce Morse: I as well.